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28 Days Until Training Camp: The Dynamic Duo

By ranking among some Pro Football Hall of Famers, Aaron Jones has cemented himself as one of the great players in franchise history. His formidable sidekick, AJ Dillon, is a rising star.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – With upheaval at receiver, the Green Bay Packers might lean more on running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon this season by putting them on the field together more often.

Asked about the possibility, Dillon said: “I can’t give you the secret sauce here, but the theory that you just brought up is very intriguing to me. I would love to see that. That’s my guy and so we’ll make it happen.”

The Packers are blessed to have one of the best one-two punches in the NFL. Last season, 24 running backs rushed for at least 750 yards. Dillon and Jones and Denver’s Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams were the only set of teammates. Also, 25 running backs had at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Jones-Dillon, Gordon-Williams and Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard were the only tandems.

“Their relationship, so I think they feed off each other pretty well,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “It’s kind of a luxury because you can keep them both fresh throughout the game and then toward the end, you can either throw A.J. in there to pound and wear the defense down, or put Aaron in and, all of a sudden, the defense is worn down and it’s an explosive play. Having a blend of both those guys, that will continue throughout this upcoming season.”

With Jones missing some time, Dillon led the team with 803 rushing yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. En route to his third consecutive season of 1,000 total yards, Jones was right on Dillon’s heels with 799 rushing yards and a 4.7-yard average.

Last season, 36 running backs had at least 136 rushing attempts (eight per game). Despite their obviously different skill-sets and running styles, they tied for eighth with 3.18 yards after contract per carry, according to Pro Football Focus.

In the 2017 draft, Jones was the 19th running back selected. With 4,163 rushing yards, he trails only Dalvin Cook (4,820), Joe Mixon (4,564) and Alvin Kamara (4,238) and is ahead of the draft’s two first-rounders, Leonard Fournette (3,810) and Christian McCaffrey (3,587). Of the 30 running backs selected, he’s fifth with 183 receptions and seventh with 1,448 receiving yards.

While it’s possible this year will be his last with the Packers – his cap charge explodes to $20 million next season – Jones has cemented himself as one of the great players in franchise history. He ranks fifth in franchise history in rushing yards. He could pass Hall of Famer Tony Canadeo (4,197) and move into fourth place in Week 1, and John Brockington’s third-place mark of 5,024 rushing yards is just 861 yards out of his reach.

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Jones isn’t just great by Packers standards. Jones and two NFL legends, Hall of Famers Jim Brown of Cleveland and Jim Taylor of Green Bay, are the only players in NFL history with at least 4,000 rushing yards, 40-plus rushing touchdowns and a 5.0-yard average in their first five seasons.

According to Stathead, Jones’ career average of 5.06 yards per carry is the sixth-best in NFL history among running backs with at least 800 carries. Jones’ name is sandwiched between five Hall of Famers – Marion Motley is first and Brown is fourth; Gales Sayers is seventh, Barry Sanders is eighth and Joe Perry is ninth.

For all the power in those bulging quads, Dillon needs to get more explosive to become the next great back. Last year, Dillon had 18 more carries than Jones but seven fewer 10-yard runs. In fact, Dillon’s nine runs of 10-plus yards were the fewest of those aforementioned 36 backs with 136 carries. His 10-yard run rate of 4.8 percent was also the worst, well behind Miami’s Myles Gaskin (6.9 percent).

“He’s got that type of ability,” Sirmans said, “because he can actually make you miss in the open field. He’s got the ability to put a little juke on you, even for a guy his size, so it’s really just bringing all those different facets of his game, just bringing those attributes together and let him apply them. I think he will have more explosive runs this year.”

However, Dillon’s ability to seemingly get 4 and 5 yards on every run was a tremendous asset. He was No. 1 in the NFL in Pro Football Outsiders’ Success Rate, a metric that mirrors Green Bay’s win-loss grading system.

Plus, his hands were quite a revelation. After catching only 21 passes in three seasons at Boston College, Dillon caught 34 last year. Of 40 running backs to be targeted at least 30 times in the passing game, Dillon’s 91.9 percent catch rate ranked third and his 9.2 yards after the catch per catch ranked eighth, according to PFF. He had just one drop.

“It’s definitely something I’m still trying to work on,” Dillon said. “Coming in, I was always the big back who’s only good for third-and-short, so I really want to be and I think of myself as an APB, an all-purpose back, no matter what the situation and I feel like last year was a good start, a good foothold if you will, but there’s still a couple opportunities I wish I had caught the ball and been in better placement or ran a route better. So, I’m happy with the improvement but obviously still working on it.”

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Countdown to Packers Training Camp

Part 1 (30 days): All Matt LaFleur does is win (in the regular season)

Part 2 (29 days): Dominant Rasul Douglas